Which are your favorites among Maugham's short stories?

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Which are your favorites among Maugham's short stories?

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okt 18, 2010, 11:16 pm

I have been contemplating this for the last few days, wondering which stories I would cite if I had to come up with a list of my five favorites. My list of five favorites now contains six, and in reality, I'd feel bad to leave any out from my top ten.

So, I wonder how my list of favorites compares to those others might cite? Which are your favorite five (or if you must, more).

Redigeret: okt 19, 2010, 1:08 pm

Really tough task. Top five is quite impossible for me. Indeed, it's much easier to compile top five of Maugham's worst short stories from the mature ones:

The man with the scar
The Portrait of a Gentleman
A Man from Glasgow
In a Strange Land
The Escape

(Four out of five from Cosmopolitans, significantly.)

From Maugham's first five mature collections, six stories each, published between 1921 and 1933, and collected in East and West (1934, Altogether in England) I wouldn't want to be without even my least favourite one (which is Miss King from Ashenden, by the way).

Still, let me try one putative top ten, though with the firm statement that this is very, very limited number. Since I am a great fan of Maugham's short story collections as they were originally published - each one has its own character and charm - I would go through them, picking one, or at most two pieces, to compile this top ten. In more or less chronological order, my top ten looks thus:

The Fall of Edward Barnard (1921)
The Taipan (1922)
The Outstation (1924)
Louise (1925)
His Excellency (1927)
Mr Know-All (1929)
Virtue (1931)
The Door of Opportunity (1931)
The Lotus Eater (1935)
Episode (1947)

Hell of a choice indeed! The years in brackets for the most part indicate the first appearance in magazine; so don't be puzzled that they don't match the years in which the collections themselves appeared. (Sometimes the difference exceeds a decade, as in the case of Louise for instance: it was first published in book form in 1936.) The Taipan is the only one which was never published in a short story collection, apart from The Collected Short Stories of course, but first appeared in Maugham's first mature travel book, On a Chinese Screen (1922).

To have some fun with the other extremity, I have a proposition for one and only one story which should be included in a putative anthology as best representative of Maugham's style and outlook. For me this is short story is Virtue; if it's too long for the editors: Louise or Mr Know-All.

okt 19, 2010, 8:15 pm

thanks, I will post my own this weekend.

okt 21, 2010, 9:41 am

There are so many of them. I will have to refer to the volumes to pen them down. So will be back in couple of days.

okt 25, 2010, 3:10 am

His collection of short stories (in 4-5 volumes) is so expensive here.
Damn Vintage!
I'm still searching for a cheaper local reprint.

okt 29, 2010, 8:38 pm

Here's the reason for my delay in posting my favorites. It's Waldstein's fault, since he's mentioned two that I feel compelled to go back to before making my final decision.

okt 30, 2010, 4:12 am

Mea culpa, mea maxima culpa. :-)

nov 1, 2010, 2:03 am

I'd put The Creative Impulse on any list.

Redigeret: nov 12, 2010, 6:47 am

It occurred to me that it might be useful to split Maugham's short stories to several groups - they are so vastly different from one another - and make several Top 10 selections. I am not quite sure that makes any sense, but it's fun. Here are my (mostly) Top 10s in four different categories: exotic tales, Cosmopolitans, preWWI stories, all others (spy stories + mostly European settings).

The exotic tales are three full collections, six stories each - The Trembling of a Leaf (1921), The Casuarina Tree (1926) and Ah King (1933) - the first set in the South Seas and the rest in the Far East which is a little closer, at least from European point of view. There is one later exotic tale, Flotsam and Jetsam, which appeared much later in Creatures of Circumstance (1947). Even though these are only 19 stories, I find it impossible to make Top 5 - I might just as well take the complete Trembling of a Leaf save Honolulu. So here is my Top 10 of Maugham's exotic tales:

The Fall of Edward Barnard
The Pool
The Letter
The Outstation
The Force of Circumstance
The Door of Opportunity
The Book-Bag
The Back of Beyond

Of course there are several exotic stories among the Cosmopolitans but these really should be discussed separately. Much shorter and less complex, the 29 ''very short stories'' in this volume have nothing in common with Maugham's other collection. Yet there are such a huge fun that I find Top 5 to be impossible. So there's another Top 10, a very cosmopolitan one:

Mr. Know-All
A Friend in Need
The Ant and the Grasshopper
The Poet
The Bum
The Verger
The Wash Tub

From Maugham's early stories, nicely collected in Seventeen Lost Stories I can, for once, try a Top 5, for these certainly rather immature in comparison with his later masterpiece. Yet they make a jolly good read.

Lady Habart
Cupid and the Vicar of Swale
A Point of Law

Lastly, there is one very disparate group that includes four full collections - Ashenden (1928, 6 stories) Six Stories in First Person Singular (1931), The Mixture as Before (1940) and Creatures of Circumstance (1947, save Flotsam and Jetsam) - and seven pieces from Maugham's travel that were reprinted in any of his collections but did find place in The Complete Short Stories (1951). Altogether 43 short stories here, and even Top 15 would be a hard one to compile. But let's try one Top 10:

(from the travel books)
The Taipan
A Marriage of Convenience

(from the collections)
The Human Element
The Lotus Eater
A Man with a Conscience
The Facts of Life
The Happy Couple

Much too many favourites had to be left out.:(

dec 4, 2010, 6:08 pm

Great topic. Again I'm late to it. If nothing else, Waldstein's usual clarity of recollection makes me realize just how long ago I read all of Maugham's stories and how desperately they call out for re-reading. I'm glad Waldstein mentions MISS KING as his least favorite; it is probably mine, too; I believe it began my collection of the Ashenden stories with the sad result that I never went on to complete the others. Because of my poor memory then, I could only come with five. These favorites would be:


The last two probably subject to change pending my re-examination of the whole collection.

aug 25, 2011, 6:44 pm

I am working on getting copies of each of the original collections of short stories -- as at least one critic has pointed out, they are best read in the original collections. Most are inexpensive as used copies.